When I was 13, I had a long-term babysitting gig for a single mother in my neighborhood that took place every Thursday. I would walk over to my not-so-close neighbor’s house for a 5 p.m. start time so I could make dinner for the kids and myself — usually pasta and a jar of sauce. I would then serve the kids the meal, clean up, play with the kids for a bit, bathe them, read to them, and put them to bed. I was expected to do everything the parent would typically do.
Once the kids were asleep, I would crash on the sofa until the mother came home around 11 p.m. Even though she may have been drinking on her evening out, many times she would hop in her car and drive me home while her kids slept upstairs alone until she returned.
My, how times have changed.
My daughters have been of babysitting age for a few years now, and almost nothing is the same since my child-minding days. There is no more walking over to the hiring parents’ house in the dark and often no cooking. My teens are barely able to cook for themselves, let alone in a stranger’s home for their small children. Usually the children have already been bathed by their parents, activities have been planned, movies have been chosen, and a prepaid pizza delivery is on the way.
These days, as the parents of the babysitter, we’re also often on the clock when our kids are out looking after someone else’s children. When I babysat, my parents were nowhere in the equation. The hiring parents took care of me and made sure I was transported to and from their home. Now, when my kids babysit, I’m the one responsible for delivering my child to the hiring parents’ home and then picking her up. I suppose they figure that if they’re already paying for a sitter, all the sitter needs to do is figure out their own way home — they don’t want to take on the added responsibility of delivering home the teenage babysitter!
However, despite the parent of the babysitter being an essential part of the night’s equation, I find that all negotiations for the evening are typically between the other parents and my teen. It’s common for the parents to text one of my kids directly to make arrangements, unbeknownst to me or my husband. We usually find out later — the day before, if we are lucky — that we are needed to drive our teen to the job and/or wait to be called to pick them up. By no means do I want someone else driving my child while under the influence, but I still think that it ought to be the hiring parents’ responsibility to get our child home safely.
It wasn’t long ago that we were the parents hiring sitters, and perhaps we crossed some of these boundaries with our babysitter’s parents too. It is a very short window between being a parent hiring a babysitter to being a parent of a babysitter — and both situations are equally worrying.
So, have things changed for the better since my babysitting days? I suppose it depends on who you ask. The babysitters certainly have it easier now, with the parents of their wards doling out cash for serving delivery pizza on a paper plate and ensuring no one burns the house down. The parents? Whether we’re the hiring parents or the babysitter’s parents, I think we might be getting a bit of a raw deal here. On the bright side, my daughter will be able to drive soon and will no longer need me to be her chauffeur. Now that’s a change I can live with.